Friday, May 1, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 15

Once again Emma stood on the pavement outside the Christmas shop. The beauty of the little place hadn’t faded in her viewing as yet and she looked at the twinkling lights and green garlands with a marvellous feeling of luck that she got to work in it. There were traditional wooden toys nestled against state of the art fairy lights. Prior to working here Emma hadn’t really even known there was such a thing as a state of the art fairy light but there was apparently. And people really spent on them.

Fiona appeared from the staff door and headed over to unbolt and allow Emma in. Emma swallowed nervously; hoping against hope that Fiona had managed to calm down and reflect since their row yesterday. Emma took it as a good sign that Fiona was, at least, unbolting the door and not just making her stand on the pavement and think about what she’d done.

“Hi.” Said Emma, as Fiona pulled the door open and stood stiffly.

“Hello.” Fiona replied coolly. Emma thought that was actually a pretty good start seeing as how they had left things. She’d had several daydreams where Fiona just refused to talk to her at all for the entire day except to give her tasks. Emma entered the shop, shed her bag in the staff room and came back to the shop floor just as Fiona flicked the speaker and Mariah Carey gently hummed to life.

Emma noticed there was a trestle table over in the far corner of the shop by the window. “What’s that there for?” She asked Fiona. Fiona glanced over to the table.

“We’ve got a local chef coming in later,” she said, “She’s giving out free tasters of her hot chocolate range and then selling them. It’s a sort of trial to see how it goes. It could be really good for the shop if she picks us to be her pop-up store in Bath.”

Emma was delighted to hear such a long sentence out of Fiona’s mouth and for none of the words to be either rude about her, or swear words. This was definitely progress. Another brilliant thing was the thought of fancy hot chocolate being on tap all day; the only thing better than that would have been it had been a fancy wine maker… what were they called? Something to do with the summer but she couldn’t remember quite what.

“Did you have a good evening?” Emma asked Fiona timidly; unsure as to whether or not putting the conversation on to a personal note would melt the thin ice they were skating on.

“Not really,” said Fiona, sniffing. Emma’s stomach took a dive for the floor; it writhed around like a footballer seeking a penalty and she rubbed it gently urging the next words out of Fiona’s mouth to not be more fury. “I thought quite a lot about what you said.” Fiona continued, “And, I’m sorry I was so rude to you. You were actually being a good friend to be honest with me, but I didn’t want to hear it. I don’t want to have to start again.”

Emma could have cried. And sung. And hugged Fiona. All at once. She didn’t do any of them, but she did smile broadly across the empty shop. “Ok…” she said carefully, “I’m really glad you’re not so mad at me, but, look maybe I could have found a softer way to say it. I know it wasn’t easy to hear and I’m sorry if I was tactless.” Emma actually thought she’d been really tactful - especially for her. If Fiona had taken that conversation badly then she’d have straight up shot Emma for some of the arse achingly awful sentences that had come out of her mouth over the years. She felt like it was better to be placatory though - just to be on the safe side. She looked at Fiona and felt horribly sorry for her. “It won’t be too bad starting again.” She said with a supportive smile.

“The thing I really realised,” said Fiona sadly, “Was that… starting again, right, well… the things I’m going to lose are so shallow.”

“Like, the nice cars and stuff?” Emma asked.

“No, not even those. I barely got to really enjoy those because I was always so tense about us getting caught, or if I wasn’t tense then he was and he was so snappy it wasn’t fun. No, the things I’m scared about are… oh god this is going to sound so pathetic, but, it’s having someone to text about things - someone who is the person that jumps into your mind first when you think of things to say to someone. He wasn’t even that good to text - he could only reply when he was out of the house and had his other phone, but, at least I had someone. Even if he was shit. I’m pathetic but I’d rather have someone who made me sad that no one. Isn’t that awful?”

This time Emma did hug Fiona. She didn’t have any choice - her feet had made the decision and propelled her across the carpet. Before she knew it her arms were wrapped around Fiona’s neck in a fully enveloping hug. She smiled to herself about how the day before she’d wanted to have her arms around Fiona’s neck in a very different way.

“I don’t think it’s pathetic at all.” She told Fiona, “I’d be exactly the same. God I am exactly the same. I gave up an entire life and moved across the country just so I didn’t have to change the man I fancied from afar! That’s pathetic.”

Fiona wiped away some gentle tears and laughed at Emma. “I’m actually not going to argue with you there. Oh what a pair we are.”

The bell tinkled over the door and a couple walked in hand in hand. “Show offs.” Muttered Emma so that only Fiona could hear. Fiona laughed again and stretched her professional smile over glittery eyes. Emma smiled too; glad to have the proper Fiona back again. “I’m going to go down and finish what I started yesterday in the stock room.” She told Fiona.

“Oh no! Don’t be silly - I shouldn’t have even asked you to do that, what an awful cow I was being.” Protested Fiona.

“No, no - I want to.” Emma insisted. She really did; about three hours into her rage fuelled cleaning session she had started to really see the difference in the stock room and she was determined to finish the job and have the place looking perfect.

She’d been in the stock room for around 90 minutes sorting out boxes and downsizing when she was struck full force with the reminder that she had Simon’s phone number just sitting in her jacket pocket waiting to cheer up Fiona.

“I’m an IDIOT.” She shouted out loud and hurriedly fished the paper out of her pocket and dashed out of the stock room. She took the stairs two at a time and was almost onto the shop floor when she caught her foot on the carpet runner and tripped through the staff door and out into the middle of the shop. She lay on her front, sprawled across the carpet - once again feeling the agony of severely bruised ribs taking yet another beating.

‘There is no way being an adult is supposed to be like this.’ She thought as she tried to steady her breathing and blink the stars out of her vision.

“Are you alright?” Came Fiona’s voice from somewhere over her head. “My god Emma what’s happened? Is there a fire?”

Emma would have laughed if she physically could have. A fire would have been a very sensible suggestion for why any other adult was moving at such a pace through a professional building - once you were over the age of 13 you weren’t supposed to be racing up stair cases because a boy liked your friend.

“No, no fire.” She croaked, and began to gingerly pull herself up to a sitting position. Emma was absolutely horrified to push her hair out of her face and see not just Fiona’s face staring back at her but also that of a stranger. It took her a full second before she realised this must be the chef Fiona had mentioned earlier. “Hi, I’m Emma.” She stuck out a hand and it wasn’t until the chef was shaking it that she remembered the hand contained the piece of paper that contained the phone number that contained the possible key to Fiona’s future happiness.

The chef frowned down at the piece of paper that had come away into her hand. “Nice to meet you.” She said, confused, “Is this for me?”

“Er, no.” said Emma, relieving the woman of the piece of paper. “It’s for Fiona, sorry. I forgot it was in my hand.”

The woman looked like she thought Emma was completely mad. In fairness, Emma felt completely mad so it wasn’t really a criticism of the chef.

“What is it?” Asked Fiona. Emma wasn’t sure what to say - it didn’t feel like she was painting the shop in the best light so far. Surely announcing now in front of this stranger that it was the phone number of a man who wanted to have romantic liaisons with Fiona was not going to stop her assuming she should never have agreed to this trial. Emma looked at Fiona in a panic.

“It’s just a phone number I was supposed to give you.” She said. There, wasn’t a lie, wasn’t the whole truth.

“What phone number?” Fiona looked confused. Emma realised she was still sitting on the carpet and that the height difference was not helping her feel like a capable adult woman. She pulled herself to her feet.

“It’s the number for… for that giraffe specialist.” She said carefully. Absolutely delighted with herself for coming up with an answer that got the information across without making the shop seem like a playground.

“The giraffe specialist?” The chef and Fiona were in synch with their utter confusion at Emma’s response. They gaped at her.

“Did you hit your head?” Fiona followed up, clearly very concerned about the gibberish coming out of Emma’s mouth.

“No, no. I’m fine.” Emma briefly wondered if she was fine. “Fi, you know Sunday when we met that giraffe guy? And he… er, gave us the VIP treatment?” This was coming out dreadfully… she was trying to make it sound like they were high flyers but it was coming out much more like they’d been serviced by a gigolo.

‘High flyers in what?’ A frantic thought ran through her mind.

‘I don’t know! Something to do with giraffes I suppose!’ She thought back wildly.

‘But you both work in a Christmas shop and she knows that!’

‘I know! But it could be a giraffe toy supplier or something?’

There was total silence in the shop as both the chef, whose name Emma still hadn’t managed to wrangle, and Fiona looked at her for some semblance of sense.

“Simon?” Was all Emma managed to get out of her mouth and thankfully a light of recognition came on in Fiona’s eyes.

“Simon? Why do you have Simon’s phone number?” She asked, before turning to the chef and explaining, “Anya, Emma and I popped to Bristol Zoo on Sunday and the giraffe keeper let us feed them. I think it must be his number Emma has.”

‘Anya! That’s her name! There we go. All fixed.’ Thought Emma triumphantly.

‘No, wait - that wasn’t the problem, was it?’

‘Maybe I did hit my head.” Emma ran a hand around her skull feeling for cracks or evidence of an entire brain sneaking out of a back door.

“I saw Jack last night and he said that Simon had caught up with him at the zoo and asked him to give you his number.” Emma got the impression from Fiona that it seemed to be ok to be relatively normal around Anya. Of course, relatively normal for Emma was doing a roly poly through the staff door into the middle of the shop because she was so excited about a phone number. Emma tried to do her best impression of what she thought normal might be for a successful chef.

“Oh my goodness.” Fiona blushed a very pretty pink.

“How exciting,” said Anya, “A romance! I picked a good day to be here.”

Emma liked Anya immediately. She also liked the warm, sweet smell that was coming off the self-stirring pot on the trestle table. “That smells delicious.” She said to Anya, “Might I try some?”

“Of course,” said Anya, “Although - I might get you the one without the whiskey… just in case.” She eyed Emma’s skull, and Emma was not sad at all to have someone watching out for her.

“Will you text him now?” Asked Anya.

“Good god no! I couldn’t! Could I?” Asked Fiona. “I only just got his number!”
“He doesn’t know that though,” said Emma, “He gave it to Jack on Sunday so for all Simon knows you’ve had it since Sunday.” Emma was really quite proud of herself for coming to this conclusion. She made a mental check in the Not Concussed side of the tally in her head.

“Wouldn’t it be… wouldn’t it be cheating if I did?” Fiona sounded like a timid teenager.

“What do you already have a partner?” Anya was in the juicy gossip without a moment’s hesitation. Emma liked her immediately; she seemed so confident and cool. Emma and Fiona looked at each other. There was no way Emma would have thrown Fiona under the bus with Anya by mentioning Norman. She decided to see what Fiona revealed.

“I… I have sort of been seeing someone.” Fiona said cautiously, and then seemed to take all of that caution and throw it spectacularly into an oncoming breeze, “Except he’s not exactly single himself.”

Anya’s eyebrows shot up, “Goodness me. I picked the right shop to set up in, didn’t I? I can see we’re not going to have any boring days in here!”

Emma felt herself really hoping that Anya would be around more. Not only for the shop’s sake but also, for herself and Fiona. It was nice having someone else.

“So, should I text him?” Asked Fiona. Anya and Emma looked at each other and then both shrugged.

“Do you want to?” Asked Emma.

“I think so.” Said Fiona, “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Exactly.” Said Anya, “Why wouldn’t you?”

“What would I say?” Fiona said shyly. 

Anya marched across the shop floor. “Give me your phone!” She said, hand outstretched. Fiona obediently handed her phone across to Anya, who tapped away for a few seconds and then passed it back to Fiona. “How about something like that?”

Fiona and Emma crowded their heads over the little screen to look at it. There on the phone was the most perfect, casual, friendly, breezy, confident message Emma had ever seen. She looked up at Anya agog, “You’re a wizard.” She said in awe.

Anya laughed and wandered back over to her hot chocolates, ladling a little bit into two cups and waving them at two window shoppers out in the street. The couple looked delighted and hurried into the shop to try some.

“I’m going to send it.” Said Fiona, after the two customers had gone having purchased two tubs of Anya’s hot chocolate and a Christmas tree decoration in the shape of a stiletto. Emma and Anya watched the text message fly off into the ether. “Ugh, now for the awful bit where you have to wait and see if they reply.” Fiona moaned and the other two women grinned back at her. No sooner were the words out of her mouth though, and Fiona’s phone buzzed insistently in her hand. She looked down at it in shock. “It’s from him!” She screeched. Emma felt her heart in her throat and then laughed at how patently teenage the whole day felt.

“What does it say?” She asked Fiona.

“Would I like to go for a drink tonight? Oh my goodness! I would! I would like to go for a drink tonight!” Fiona was beaming from ear to ear. It was infectious, but Emma couldn’t help feeling a creeping melancholy sidling into the pit of her stomach as she thought about her own text message to Theo lying un-responded to in her phone. He certainly hadn’t wanted to date her within seconds of hearing from her.

“Right,” she said, trying to brush off the jealousy, “I’m going to go and get finished downstairs.”

“Be careful!” Called Anya, jokingly.


What do Anya, Fiona and Emma do on the following Sunday:

  1. Go to Anya’s restaurant
  2. Go to a park
  3. Watch a film together
  4. Cook at Emma’s

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